Exhaustion: Decoding Your Body’s Messages and Finding a Healthy Balance

Sleep. It’s a beautiful thing. I wish we were on speaking terms…I really do.

One of life’s little ironies is that some of our hardest times are when our dreams actually do come true.

Paula Rinehart in Better Than My Dreams

Everyone’s heard them and repeated them. They’re frequently humorous or weak attempts at poignant observations concerning the quirky things people do, think, believe, and react to about the foibles of life. But women in particular seem to relish reiterating these expressions for getting the final word. Consider this slim offering of encouragement spoken after a parenting pep talk: Keep your chin up. Or, how about this admonition uttered immediately following a rousing competitive board game in which only one person can win—and knows it: Don’t get a chip on your shoulder. Take those moments when one child attempts to project blame onto his sibling by offering a purposefully confusing account of the discipline-worthy act: Cut to the chase (please). Depending upon their moment-by-moment behavior, kids are considered either the apple of my eye or the bane of my existence.

As amusing as these sayings are, the truth is there often is a grain of truth in every one. Take the idiom getting up on the wrong side of the bed, which is code for issuing the warning, don’t get up grumpy and unsocial. While this phrase is commonly given in jest, there are physiological reasons for women to wake up wrong-sided, and none are laughing matters. According to Dr. Alex Strande, director of Simply Healing Clinic in Irving, California, women’s moods are intensified by ever-changing hormones, which are themselves exacerbated by lifestyle and environmental stress, irregular eating habits, junk food, some pharmaceutical drugs, too much caffeine, too little exercise, and inefficient sleep.

Note in particular the lack of sleep. Women attempt to squeeze far too many hours of work into their twenty-four-hour days. In an age when we women are fulfilling our dreams and excelling equally in the home and workplace, there is real risk of imbalance occurring as we strive to accomplish it all. Not only does this inner race to succeed in all areas compete with our physical health.

It is this need for balance that Dr. Strande cites as vital, because when hormone levels are off, health problems occur with increasing regularity. Some of the more recognizable health concerns women face when hormones are not in balance include depression, mood swings, anxiety, night sweats, irritability, insomnia, fatigue, mental fogginess, and weight gain. Strande tells women to take an overall view of their lives and not look for a pill to make it all go away. Medication often only masks the core problems. We must recognize it is our responsibility to be proactive in all phases of our treatment plan; this entails an intelligent exchange of information with our health care providers, doing necessary homework, and then adopting the steps that will achieve an overall higher quality of life.

A final idiomatic word of advice to spouses, children, and others foolhardy enough to comment on a sleep-deprived woman’s early morning attitude, actions, or attire: Do what your mother always taught you (give her the benefit of the doubt); it may have been a rough and sleepless night indeed.

Takeaway Action Thought: Physical exhaustion is your body’s way of sounding a wake-up call that you’re trying to accomplish too much, too fast, too often.

Weight-Bearing Exercises

What is the most common area in which women repeatedly cut corners so as to complete daily work? Sleep. Hands down, women consistently skimp on the hours we allot for nighttime rest to stay up late enough to finish up or catch up on jobs needing doing. What we don’t realize is we are eventually going to pay an even higher price than we might suppose once our bodies reach that red-alert point. Life is hectic. Demands come in quick succession, and no doubt they always will. There are new opportunities and favorable possibilities around every corner, but there’s only one you, so take good care, and rest responsibly. Make it as serious a business as any professional pursuit you undertake.

· Body facts: Sleep is the time for the body to repair and restore itself.

Life implications: When a woman doesn’t get enough rest, she starts the day with a physical deficit. She feels the effect of the day’s pressures more keenly and frequently finds herself relying on stimulants to push through the day’s responsibilities.

· Body facts: Sleep debt results in mental, emotional, and physical fatigue.

Life implications: The day’s stresses can feel like too much to handle. A woman’s ability to act decisively and with confidence is reduced. Often a woman’s perceptions become skewed as well, causing her to oversensitize the events and situations she would normally dismiss or ignore.

· Body facts: Wound healing, the immune system, and metabolism are negatively affected by lack of sleep.

Life implications: A woman is less able to kick that virus, cold, or other ailment quickly, and she might find her symptoms linger longer and even develop into more serious conditions over time.

· Body facts: Decision making, reasoning, and memory are also directly impaired by sleep deprivation.

Life implications: The ability to creatively problem solve,make plans, and develop presentations is compromised when relying on a tired mind. A woman soon realizes that such tasks take longer and require more energy when she is sleep deprived, thus erasing the time-saving benefit she mistakenly believed her into-the-night work habits profited her.


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